Builds Upon: Supermarkets: The Illusion of Overchoice
When we say something is ‘cheap’ or ‘expensive,’ we usually mean by relative terms. A car is cheap if it’s cheap relative to other cars. Any item we purchase tends to be cheap or expensive relative to our personal income.
Yet there is no good way to measure the value of one’s purchases without an objective barometer.
Consider the candy bars sold at a grocery store checkout lane. Susceptible shoppers think “99 cents! That’s just pocket change. It’s cheap and I want a snack right now.”
Yet how does that ‘cheap’ candy bar measure up against actual food commodities?
Imagine going to the meat department at your local grocery store and seeing a snicker section in between the pork and the beef. How much per pound would a big lump of snicker bar cost? If we consider that it’s 99 cents just for a few ounces of snicker, it might very well be more expensive then beef brisket or even a mid-level steak.
Who would buy snicker at this imaginary deli? Probably no one. Candy is an inferior food that commands a premium price. Placed in this context, it’s obviously a colossal ripoff.
Yet most people haven’t equipped themselves with a way of measuring the true cheapness of an item. Change the packaging around a bit, use some psychological tricks and most people fall for it.
The impulse candy bar is just about the most minor of possible examples. Without an objective measure of cheapness, the consumer is the perpetual victim of the same few mind games every time they make a purchase. Over a lifetime, they waste countless thousands of dollars, especially when making critical decisions about schooling, housing, and transportation.
To assess anything properly we need a fundamental, essential expense by which all other expenses can be measured.
For me, all things are cheap or expensive in comparison to the most basic foodstuffs that keep people alive.
Things are objectively cheap or expensive as they compare to a pound of potatoes, rice, pasta, or flour.
Truly, not too many things we buy really are cheap.
Once we have a means of measuring, it becomes clear that many things that seemed affordable are in fact fantastically expensive.
This doesn’t mean we should live an ascetic lifestyle. But it does mean that we will have a true appreciation and appraisal of our wealth before we decide to sacrifice it in exchange for a good or service. It is a way of ceasing to judge value according to the reckoning of the mass society. It is a way to judge instead by the absolute value of a good or service.